A Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court will hold a special sitting tomorrow to hear a petition filed by Software Freedom Law Centre, challenging the Hooghly Internet Shutdown.
Following eruption of communal violence in three areas of the Hooghly district on May 12, the concerned District Magistrate issued an order under Section 144 of CrPC, suspending internet services thereof until May 17.
Assailing this order, the Petitioner organization has moved the High Court through Advocates Indrajeet Dey and Prasanth Sugathan, stating that the impugned order fails the test of reasonableness and proportionality and it was passed in excess of the Magistrate's jurisdiction.
The matter was listed today before the Bench comprising of Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee, which has asked the Advocate General, appearing on behalf of the State, to reply to the arguments raised by the Petitioner.
Keeping in view the urgency of the matter, a special sitting of the Bench has been scheduled for tomorrow. The Court is also hearing a petition filed by Advocate Priyanka Tibrewal, seeking inquiry into the Hooghly violence and also challenging the shutdown order.
As per the Petitioners, an order of internet shutdown cannot be issued under Section 144 inasmuch as the legally prescribed manner of imposing an internet shutdown is through the procedure laid down under Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, which is a special law governing the field.
"It can be established that ordering an internet suspension using Section 144 Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 when there is a specific law viz. Telecom Suspension Rules is a misuse of the Provision and is illegal," the plea states.
It has been submitted that the ongoing internet shut down is also against the principles and directives laid down by the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India since the impugned order was not made available to the public nor was it put up on any government website.
In the said case, the Supreme Court had held that "…an order, particularly one that affects lives, liberty and Property of people, must be made available. Any law which demands compliance of the people requires to be notified directly and reliably…"
Further, the Petitioner has contended that internet shutdown during the present crisis is not limited to restricting the Rights under Article 19 of the Constitution but it is equivalent to "suppression of all legal and constitutional rights" inasmuch as the Courts are being accessed through video Conference facilities, which can be facilitated only through uninterrupted internet services.
"In this instance of internet shutdown, there is a gross violation of fundamental rights to equality, right to freedom of speech and expression, right to privacy, right to freedom of trade, right to life, right to food, and right to education, guaranteed under Articles 14, 19, and 21, of the Constitution of India while imposing telecom service and internet shutdowns," the plea states.
Furthermore, the Petitioner has pointed out that suspension of internet for 6 long days will also have a detrimental impact on the fight against COVID-19.
"The right to have access to the internet is a part of the right to information as well as the right to health, without which a person would be unable to lead a life of dignity, knowledge and liberty. The restriction on such right by the Respondent in the form of the said ban on the internet affects the ability of citizens to access information related to Covid-19 and affects the ability of health personnel to disseminate the information. Thus, this action is an infringement of the right to life and personal liberty of all affected persons, being violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India," SFLC submitted.
Accordingly, the Petitioner has sought that the impugned order be quashed and internet services in the region be restored. A further direction is sought, commanding the concerned authorities not to order any suspension of telecom services.
Click here to download the order in the case filed by Priyanka Tibrewal
Click Here To Download Petition(of SFLC)